As summer draws to a close, I am optimistic about the journey ahead for Pinellas County Schools. It promises to be an exciting school year for our district as we strive to meet the needs of students and respond to the changing landscape of the 21st century.
This spring our district was awarded a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Next Generation Systems Initiative grant to expand personalized learning opportunities for students. Personalized learning tailors what, when, how and where students learn to each student’s individual needs and interests.
The district is working on a plan to create a model school focused on personalized learning for 2015-16. Several schools are also creating plans to have personalized learning programs at their schools the same school year: Clearwater, Northeast, Pinellas Park and Seminole High, in cooperation with Career Academies of Seminole.
As we enter the new school year, we are proud of our efforts to close the student achievement gap. Over the summer, we continued extended learning opportunities for students grades K-12 with Summer Bridge and Algebra 1 boot camp for ninth graders. We are seeing positive trends in graduation rates among our minority students. Among African-American students’ graduation rates have increased by nearly 10 percent since 2011. We have also been recognized by The College Board as a Gold Status District for the overall enrollment and pass rate of minority students in Advanced Placement courses.
We are also launching several new academic and enrichment programs at schools throughout the district. We have expanded gifted education services to all elementary schools, eliminating the need to bus students to select sites for services. Our Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), and Robotics Clubs increased from 15 in 2012 to 115 in 2014. We have launched a new elementary magnet program at two elementary schools, Gulf Beaches Elementary in St. Pete Beach and Kings Highway Elementary in Clearwater. Both schools will house Centers for Innovation and Digital Learning, which will provide a technology rich environment with iPads for all students in grades K-5.
In addition, we are seeking district-wide accreditation through AdvancED, an organization that encompasses the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACs). Earning and maintaining accreditation through AdvancED will help us focus priorities to improve our processes and better drive student achievement. In September, schools will invite parents to participate in an online survey that will help school leaders improve achievement strategies and district effectiveness. It’s an important step in our accreditation efforts.
We are proud of our new endeavors and the families, students and teachers that help make them attainable.